Police tactics at fracking protests need urgent review, says MEP
Repeated allegations of excessive force by police and security staff against protesters at oil and gas fracking sites across the country have led to a call for an urgent review of police tactics.
Lancashire police are investigating an allegation of assault by a security official at the Cuadrilla site at Preston New Road in Lancashire. At other protest sites – including Surrey and Derbyshire – demonstrators have made complaints about the alleged heavy-handedness of police officers.
Keith Taylor, MEP for the South East region, has called on the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Sara Thornton, to urgently issue new guidelines for officers. His call comes after senior police admitted there was a need for guidance on a consistent approach across the country to the policing of the protests because of the likelihood of further exploration sites being given the go-ahead.
Taylor said: “The photos and videos coming out from the recent protests in Derbyshire and Lancashire are incredibly concerning. It’s shocking that apparently peaceful demonstrators have suffered such violence while exercising their democratic freedom to protest.
“I have … written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to call on them to urgently review their guidance on the policing of fracking and oil and gas drilling protests. UK police forces work on the fundamental principle of consent, but if local residents are beginning to question whether officers are working to protect them or just the interests of the oil and gas industry the notion of consent has broken down – and trust must be repaired.”
Last week a demonstrator at the Cuadrilla site on Preston New Road alleged he was assaulted by a security manager for the drilling firm during a peaceful protest. The site has seen daily protests since the government overturned Lancashire county council’s decision not to grant permission for exploratory drilling. Since January protests and direct action have grown as Cuadrillahas worked to prepare for drilling.
On Tuesday one of the demonstrators was pictured being held down by an individual in the security team outside the site. He said he was part of a group of demonstrators who keep 24-hour watch for the arrival of the drill rig at the site when he claims he was restrained, forced to the floor and assaulted by one of the security officials.
“A car bringing people to join us pulled up on the public road at about 5.30am on Tuesday and it was surrounded by security,” said Robbie, who asked for his surname to be withheld. “People were trying to get out, but the security people started pushing their bodies against the car. I went over to help someone out of the car.
“One of the security staff who wasn’t wearing a uniform launched at me, he put me in some sort of restraint lock, he pushed his fingers into my neck and he pushed me to my knees. He looked like he was ex-military or ex-police, he seemed to know exactly where to apply pressure on my neck.
“At one point he was on one knee, holding me down and then he punched me on the right hand side of my head near my temple. The cops were right there and saw it.”
He has reported the alleged assault to police. Last year the Network for police monitoring (Netpol) – a coalition of activists and lawyers – found that the way protests against oil and gas fracking sites were being policed across the country, in Lancashire, the East Riding of Yorkshire and Surrey, was having a chilling effect on freedom to participate in protests.
Cuadrilla said: “On this occasion the protester became aggressive. We understand that the protester was appropriately restrained and then handed over to police.”
Last month a woman protesting in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, outside a company which is storing the proposed rig for the Lancashire drilling, was featured in footage released on social media being hurled to the ground by a police officer.
The incidents are part of a pattern which Taylor believes needs addressing by senior police with a review of guidance given to forces.
A spokesman for Lancashire police said: “We have received an allegation that a man was assaulted at the Preston New Road site on Tuesday 4 July and are currently investigating the complaint.”
Derbyshire police said: “We are aware that a video of police and protesters has been posted on social media and we are looking into the circumstances surrounding it.”
Nine people – including a Green party county councillor and an independent councillor – were charged after being arrested at the Lancashire Cuadrilla site last Monday. All have been charged with obstruction of the highway and offences under section 241 of the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act. The nine are alleged to have sought to prevent workers from going about their lawful business. They are due to appear at Blackpool magistrates court on 7 August.
A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said a new police lead for shale gas and oil exploration would soon begin working to agree terms for a review of police guidance.
A spokesman said: “Police forces experiencing protests related to shale gas and oil exploration work to maintain good relationships with the local community affected either by drilling or protest, the protesters themselves, and indeed the industry.”